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The Last Man in Town
by Susan Kay Law
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80496-4
****
Imagine a town without men, or at least almost without men. Imagine that the only man around is a handsome, studly storekeeper who alone has ignored the siren call of the Colorado gold rush. Imagine how hard it would be for said man to get a decent night’s sleep, what with the constant calls to do his civic duty by the lonely women of Maple Falls, Minnesota. This is the dilemma faced by Lucas Garrett, the hero of Susan Kay Law’s delightful new Americana romance.

A desperate Lucas approaches the one woman in town he can trust not to fall in lust with him, his best friend, Priscilla Wentworth. Priscilla is the daughter of the town’s founder and is respected by all for her good deeds. The two have been best buddies since childhood.

Lucas wants Priscilla to pretend that they are a courting couple so that the other women will leave him alone. Priscilla agrees with one provision: Lucas must help her find a husband.

To demonstrate their new relationship, Lucas proceeds to kiss Priscilla where their embrace will be witnessed by the town’s busybodies. That kiss changes everything. Suddenly Lucas “sees” his friend as a woman, and a desirable one at that. From that moment on, he begins to be obsessed by Priscilla. The lures of the other women no longer have the power to attract him.

Priscilla is likewise stunned by the kiss. She wants marriage and a family, but she had never considered Lucas as a potential husband. And she still doesn’t, however wonderful that kiss might have been. Lucas had always made it quite clear that marriage was not for him.

Law creates a plausible reason for Lucas’ avoidance of matrimony. He had witnessed his parents’ disastrous marriage. His father had been a philandering sensualist and Lucas fears that he is too much his father’s son. Priscilla knows all too well the family history and she certainly knows Lucas’ current reputation as a ladies’ man. Whatever her altered feelings towards her friend, she cannot help but think that Lucas will make a terrible husband.

I have always enjoyed stories where good friends find their friendship turning into love and The Last Man in Town is a very fine example of this kind of tale. Lucas and Priscilla are clearly meant for each other, if they can just get past the understandable barriers that the past has created.

Lucas, for all the wild oats he has sowed, is at heart a good and decent person. I suppose he is the closest one can get to a reformed rake in an Americana romance.

Priscilla is the kind of heroine I enjoy. She is not beautiful in any usually accepted fashion. Rather, she wears glasses, has nondescript hair, and has an “aristocratic” nose. But her personality makes her attractive. Priscilla is bright, she is caring and charitable, and she is brave. One can clearly understand Lucas’ attraction.

Law provides a strong cast of secondary characters: Priscilla’s widowed mother who is trying hard to save the business her husband left her; her lovely younger sister who must deal with her husband’s abandonment; Lucas’ mother who secretly writes erotic fiction; and all the women of Maple Falls who must discover how to take care of themselves and their families in a world without men. It is Lucas and Priscilla who find the means to save the town and its people.

Having read most of Law’s books, I was a bit surprised by the premise of The Last Man in Town. I rather expected a light-hearted tale, something quite different from Law’s usual fare. And, indeed, there are some humorous moments in the book. But this is vintage Law, a slice of small town America in 1860, filled with all too human emotions and foibles. Lucas’ and Priscilla’s love story is both sweet and poignant. If you, like me, enjoy stories where the romance is grows naturally from a deep and abiding friendship, then you will certainly enjoy The Last Man in Town..

--Jean Mason


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